The Observer has recently reported on the growing resurgence of religious groups working within prisons. This may conjure up visions of the Victorian prison visitor, exhorting inmates to repent their wicked ways by finding solace in their bibles. However, today’s groups are actively involved with prisoners, in an attempt to address their offending behaviour, as well as offering support. Furthermore, such ministry is not confined to Christianity. Nevertheless, what all of these faith groups would appear to have in common is a fervent belief that people can change, with impressive statistics seeming to show their success in combating recidivism.
In spite of these positive results and the Ministry of Justice’s contention that ‘Faith organisations can help build trust and acceptance and support effective reintegration,’ there are concerns regarding the role of religion within prison. For some, these concerns focus upon the economics of overcrowded prisons, with resources stretched to breaking point it is feared that the government is allowing charitable organisations to take over their role. Others fear that prisoners’ inherent vulnerability leaves them liable to be swayed by the tangible benefits religious groups are able to offer, leaving little real choice for the individual.
Nonetheless, it seems that with the overcrowding on the rise, the role of religion in prison can only expand. As The Observer concludes ‘[n]o one else wants the job.’
Theology and the Lure of the Practical: An Overview
By Mary McClintock Fulkerson
By Melvina Sumter
From The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology